Even as various universities and schools prepare to hold examinations in the coming days of the pandemic, particular concern is being raised about the participation of differently abled students. Petitions have been filed in several courts questioning the conduct of these education institutions.

“It is appalling. There is hardly any concern about students who are blind. How do you expect such students to be able to come to an exam centre and maintain distancing?” asked a college teacher in Ahmedabad.

“Then there are the scribes or writers such students require: they literally have to whisper the answers into their ears, with no possibility of distancing. And who will send their child to act as a writer in these times?”

“If physically challenged students have to go take their exams in a wheelchair, they need an attendant, and once again there is the problem of distancing. Can all this be done when we are in the middle of a battle against Covid 19?” he asked.

As for online exams, he said that students with different abilities aren’t accustomed to the long use of computers for sitting through an exam, and many students with visual impairment aren’t used to taking exams this way.

The National Federation of the Blind is currently pursuing the matter of exams in the Delhi High Court.

“If we talk about students who have thalassemia or muscular dystrophy, they have a high risk of contracting Covid 19 infection. Those having cerebral palsy need someone to write on their behalf. Who will take the responsibility if something happens,” said Pratap Bisht of the Delhi based organisation Sambhavna.

Then there is the matter of reaching your exam centre, which many students will find difficult. Even if exams are held at the district-level computer centres set up in various states, the main obstacle is the restrictions on public transport preventing people reaching these centres.

Another difficulty is that good preparation material has not been made available to differently abled students.

“There are tall claims being made about the 18,000 books available on Sugamya Pustakalaya from where they can be downloaded. These claims are questionable.

“Those in favour of holding exams are going gung-ho about open-book exams: what is not realised is that it takes several hours to download an audiobook for a blind student.

“Then there is the challenge of shuffling between pages when it comes to answering the questions. There are so many layers of challenges for a disabled student,” Bisht added.

He pointed to the inconsistent role of the University Grants Commission in this regard.

“First the onus was put on the states to decide how they want to address the issue: whether they want to have examinations at all or instead go in for promoting the students on the basis of their average in previous exams.

“Then, just in a matter of few days, they come out with guidelines insisting upon examinations for final year by September end. The matter is being pursued in the Supreme Court and is to be heard on August 10,” said Bisht.

A differently abled teacher in a college in Himachal Pradesh told The Citizen, “We have an examination schedule in our hands for exams commencing from August 17.

“The first issue is about holding examinations in colleges and institutions that were functioning as Covid centres. There are reservations in the minds of many about when those quarantined will be moved to some other place, and these premises sanitised, and whether there is enough time as per the government protocol to leave such premises isolated for a specific number of days.”

Second, “It is a well known fact that the disabled are most prone to infection. Would such students be able to appear for their exams with a free mind?”

It is being underlined that the trend of holding online examinations is all set to increase in the days to come.

According to Bisht, “It means a big market for global online giants that have already started vying for the benefits, and there is readiness to invest big time in this sector. In this scenario it needs to be ensured that people with different abilities get a level playing field.”

Cover Photograph PTI